Thursday, October 11, 2012

Perpetual Student Ponderings

Perpetual student. Yup, that's me. I have two bachelor's degrees under my belt (three bachelor's theses written) and two master's degrees on the way. I have a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts degrees and I'm working on Master of Arts (only thesis left, yay) and Master of Business Administration (lots left) degrees. I love to learn, life without learning would be boring.

Last week during my Research Tools class (part of my Master of Business Administration degree) I talked to one of my classmates. Actually we did an assignment together through email and finally met up face to face in class. He is originally from Egypt and this is his second Master's degree he's working on, so we had something in common. He is working full time for a large tech company, but decided to start a second Master's degree, since going to school in Finland is for free. Also, he wants to have an advantage in the job market, since he already considers himself having one disadvantage, being foreign. Now, I'm not foreign in Finland, and I never felt foreign in the U.S job market (or in the country itself, until I got pregnant), but I see his point. But what I can really relate to is why he is studying as much as he can, while he can. That's basically the biggest reason why I'm still studying; because I have the opportunity and because I can afford to. Talking to my classmate made me, once again, realize what a privilege it is to be able to study whatever you like, as much as you like.

Campus bus at the University of Vermont

Having/working on so many degrees raises a few eyebrows though. In Finland I've heard that I'm wasting tax payers' money and taking away a study place from someone else. In the U.S I've heard I'm just wasting time, I'm lazy for not making money and weird for not obsessing about my career. I do feel slightly guilty about using (not wasting!) tax payers' money, but I do hope I can return the favor when I head back to working life. As for taking someone else's study place, well, perhaps I was a better candidate for the spot? They can apply next year anyways. I definitely don't feel like I'm wasting time, and being a stay-at-home mom and a graduate student in two different universities can hardly be called lazy! As for not obsessing about my career, guilty as charged. I proudly admit my child/family comes before my career and I have confidence that despite not obsessing about it, I should be able to make a career for myself just fine.

I love the academia, but I also understand studying isn't for everyone. I do believe though, that high school diplomas are no longer enough, some sort of college or vocational education is needed, unless your career aspirations are to be a cashier or such. If, for example, my child turns out to be the non-studious type, I will urge him to get a degree of some (perhaps general) sort and then be done with school. I don't expect him to gain several degrees, I don't expect anyone else to either. I've only done so, because I really wanted to, had the time to and I've loved all the studying I've done. I don't plan on applying to any new schools though. If I will continue my studies again at some point, it'll be for a PhD. Hopefully I'll end up working in a learning environment, where I can use all these abilities.

I'm really curious what people think about education. Do you think everyone should aim to get a college degree? Do degrees in general matter? Should education be tuition free like it is in Finland? Are perpetual students like me annoying (wasting money/time etc.)?

Hope everyone is having a wonderful week!


Pilvi said...

I'm a bit of a perpetual student, too. Partly not by choice, since changing countries as a physician requires a "bit" of extra testing. First off, I have to say that once I graduated, I enjoyed not having to study immensely. With the knowledge that I'd have to keep studying to some degree my whole career - but updating and deepening your knowledge in your field is not quite the same thing - I was very happy to "do the grind" and put what I had learned into practice. Any earlier thoughts of changing careers or acquiring a second degree in a different field were gone. I'm one of the lucky ones: I have found what I want to do!

But all around me I have seen how important it is for a person's happiness (and success, too) to be able to make that change. To be locked in to one thing because of the financial burden that high tuition cost brings, I see that too much in the US and I see so many happier people in Finland because they don't have that. You can't know for sure at 19 what's going to be your thing.

A friend of mine would support charging tuition on a second university degree. I think so far trusting the students not to abuse the system (for example, the second degree complementing the first one; people making good use of both degrees; not "taking someone else's spot" just to take it etc.) has worked out very well for Finland, and I'd say let's only charge tuition for a second degree if that's the only way to keep the first one tuition free.

As for whether everyone should aspire for a college degree - I think no one should leave their education to high school. In Finland I think vocational colleges are a great option if high school is not for you, and despite my personal slant for higher education, I highly respect the skilled labor Finland trains in those schools. Many of these youth would either skim through high school and do odd jobs without the skills, or become high school drop outs. I know of successful people who have made it with a high school degree, but I count them as exceptions to my rule that everyone needs an education, but not everyone needs a Bachelor's degree.

My very disorganized two cents, but here they are. :)

Sugar said...

Thank you for taking time and answering, Pilvi!

Learning is indeed a lifelong process for me, I think even when I'm done with college, I plan on still updating my knowledge, like you. I don't think one really needs to enrolled in a school to learn, but certainly helps and in some professions it's a must, like yours.

I think you are absolutely right about personal happiness and education/career choice. I certainly had no idea at the age of 18, when I started my first Bachelor's, what I wanted to do. I would not have been happy programming for the rest of my life, so I'm glad I had the opportunity to study in another field. Now I have two career paths: business and history, and I'm sure I'll be able to use both of them during my lifetime.

I know I'm looking at from a perpetual students perspective, but I often wish parents were more supportive when it comes to their children's educational choices. I often feel like some parents that didn't go to high school, tend to tell their children "see, I didn't go and I'm just fine", when in fact in today's world you need have education to secure a decent job. I also think vocational school is a great option for those that don't have the aspirations to go to high school, I just wish these aspirations not to go to high school/college would not come from home. I've heard too many times that "in my family, we don't go to high school." I don't know if I'm making much sense here :D Basically what I mean is that I hope that parents would push their children forwards and not psychologically dooming them to a low-wage career. Of course there are also parents who push their children too much, but that's another story.

I think I got pretty far from you original topic there haha.
Thank you again for your answer!

Pilvi said...

My pleasure, my friend! :) I just want to add that you make a very important point of the importance of parents' support! I think that's a bigger problem in some demographics in the US than in Finland as far as numbers go, but then again I feel like in Finland parents really should know better, especially when higher education is free. I know of someone who had to pay all their high school textbooks from their allowance, parents basically said if you want to do high school, you better pay for it yourself. So aggravating!

That's very indicative of the social inequality in Finland, I'd say, and I find it tragic, when social mobility IS truly possible there. Very indicative is also that it didn't even cross my mind until you mentioned it - I come from a family where it would be more likely to pressure a kid to go into college than the other way round. ;) Not that any of us were!